US House votes to reverse ruling aimed at helping salmon in Washington state

Published on
May 1, 2018

The United States House of Representatives voted to reverse a federal judge’s ruling to release water from four dams in the Pacific Northwest in an attempt to help wild salmon migrate to the Pacific Ocean. 

The bill, which passed 225-189 on 25 April, was sponsored by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) and Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-WA), and calls for no changes in dam operations until 2022. 

The four dams in question are Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose, and Lower Granite, and are all on the Snake River, in Washington state between the cities of Pasco and Pullman. 

Those who voted in favor of the bill said that because wild salmon are already seeing record number runs and the dams provide hydroelectricity (four percent of the region’s electricity is provided by the dams), there is no reason to alter how they are being used. 

Critics argue that the dams, which were built in the 1960s and 1970s, have wiped out vast numbers of salmon: The Columbia-Snake river system has seen wild salmon numbers dwindle and more than a dozen of the runs are endangered. 

For decades, some, mostly Democrats, have argued that the dams should be removed entirely, while others, mostly Republicans, have argued for keeping the dams due to their economic benefit. 

The ruling in question was U.S. District Judge Michael Simon of Portland, Oregon’s decision that the dams should increase spillage beginning earlier this year, though critics of his ruling were quick to point out that more than USD 40 million (EUR 33 million) in power revenues would be lost. Simon wrote that the existing tribal, federal, and state plan to protect wild salmon is not effective enough and that even going so far as to dismantle the dams should be considered. 

In a press release, environmental groups opposed to the bill wrote that the legislation will “push salmon closer to extinction.”

The bill will now go to a vote in the Senate. 

Reporting from Seattle, Washington, U.S.A.

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